Social Justice, Current Events

The Minimum Wage is a Bad Tool for Fighting Poverty

Today, California governor Jerry Brown will sign a law raising the state’s the minimum wage (currently $10/hr – tied with Massachusetts for the highest of any state) to $15/hr by 2022. This is a big deal. Although a number of cities such as Los Angeles and Seattle have passed $15 minimum wage laws in the past few years, California’s law will affect both a much larger number of people, and a much more diverse population of workers, than any other measure to date.

California’s minimum wage law is the latest and largest victory in a powerful movement pushing for higher minimum wages across the United States. Supporters of this movement argue that the current minimum wage is too low to allow workers to make ends meet.

But the minimum wage is a bad tool for those whose goal is to ease the burdens of poverty. And the California law – which mandates a very high wage across a very large population – is an especially bad idea.

Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Minimum Wages Target Workers, Not the Poor – Minimum wage policies affect people wth traditional, wage-paying jobs. The problem with this is that the class of low-wage workers and the class of poor people only partially overlap. There are large segments of the poor that receive no direct benefit at all from the minimum wage – the unemployed, stay-at-home parents, Uber drivers and other “gig” employees, etc. And there are a large number of low-wage workers – think teenagers living at home with their parents – who aren’t poor. If the goal of minimum wage policies is to fight poverty, then targeting low-wage workers is a relatively ineffective way of achieving that goal.
  • Minimum Wages Hurt Marginalized Groups – Let’s put aside for the moment the question of whether minimum wages laws create unemployment or not. Because even if they don’t affect overall levels of unemployment, minimum wage laws almost certainly change the composition of unemployment. Minimum wage laws create a barrier to getting a job that the privileged are better able to overcome than the underprivileged. When jobs are scarce, then immigrants, workers with few skills or little education, and those with limited English proficiency are going to have a harder time convincing employers that their labor is worth $15 an hour than their better-skilled, native, English-speaking competitors. As Thomas Leonard has recently shown, unemploying such marginalized groups was regarded as part of the point of minimum wage laws by early 20th century “progressives” who saw the minimum wage as a useful tool for keeping immigrants, blacks, and women out of the labor market. But the effect hasn’t changed in the last 100 years, even if our moral evaluation of it has. (Well, for most of us anyways. Ron Unz still regards the unemployment of immigrants as a positive effect of minimum wage laws)
  • Some Minimum Wages Cause Unemployment – The standard economist’s argument against minimum wage laws is that, by increasing the cost of labor, they reduce the demand for it. In other words, they create unemployment. Ever since Card and Krueger’s 1997 study, economists have been somewhat mixed on whether minimum wage laws actually have this effect in practice. But – here’s the important thing – the studies that have caused economists to doubt the unemployment effects of a minimum wage have focused on minimum wages much lower than $15/hour. Obviously, there’s some point at which a minimum wage is going to start causing unemployment – otherwise, why not set it at $100 an hour? And a lot of economists – even those who support a minimum wage in principle – believe that $15 crosses the line. Maybe not in a city like Los Angeles, where most workers are earning more than $15 already, but California’s law affects not just cities like Los Angeles but cities like Fresno and El Centro, where average wages (and costs of living) are considerably lower.

My point here isn’t that government should do nothing to help the poor. It’s that minimum wage laws are a bad way of going about trying to provide that help. That’s why even John Rawls thought that minimum wage was a bad idea. Of course he thought we should have income redistribution. But the best way to do that is to let the labor market do what markets are generally quite good at – efficiently allocating resources and creating a social surplus – and then use the power of government to ensure that everybody gets an equitable (or, on my view, sufficient) share of the wealth the market creates.

Rawls thought that something like Milton Friedman’s Negative Income Tax could be an efficient way of achieving that redistribution. I think he’s right, and many others have made the same point. Unlike the minimum wage, a Negative Income Tax or Universal Basic Income (the two are often functionally identical) targets poverty, not employment. And it does so without creating the distortionary and unemployment effects of a minimum wage.

California likes to think of itself as a state on the cutting edge. But the minimum wage is a policy which, if it ever had a time at all, that time has past. Raising the minimum wage to $15 is an ineffective way to fight poverty which could have disastrous unintended consequences for the most vulnerable workers. If California wants to be smart about fighting poverty, it should follow the lead of the Finns, and consider a Negative Income Tax.

Published on:
Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • ncovington89

    My personal view is that basic income is probably the best way forward. Basic income fixes the poverty problem by addressing it directly (it doesn’t leave out the unemployed and others you mentioned).

  • urstoff

    I’ve made this same argument for years. Typically the main comeback comes from a place of anti-corporatism rather than anti-poverty, usually along the lines of Wal-mart (always the bogeyman) paying wages so low that people have to seek out social services (obviously not a good counterargument, but it’s a common one).

    • Adam Minsky

      Why is this not a good counter argument? Angry middle class folks are always lecturing people to get a job so they can be removed from welfare rolls. Yet, in many cases the only choice available to the poor seems to be to get a job remain on some sort of public assistance.
      It’s an ad hominem attack, but one Hillary Rodham Clinton once served on the board of Wal-Mart. That alone, should give self proclaimed libertarians pause before defending that particular business behemoth.

      • urstoff

        Because it’s defending a bad policy because it is anti-corporate, not because it actually helps poor individuals (which it may or may not; the evidence is not great either way). If you want to pass laws that are anti-corporation because you just don’t like corporations, fine, argue for that, but don’t put that under the guise of “helping the poor”.

        • Adam Minsky

          If we are discussing intentions, let’s be a tad more charitable. Most Leftists ,like most people generally, take positions for a variety of reason. At one level, some of them do simply want to punish big corporations, consequences be damned. Many radicals ,however, do genuinely grieve for the poor, homeless, and dispossessed among us. The Leftists ,rightly or wrongly, see the minimum wage as a way to slightly ease the burden on folks living in dire circumstances.

          • Sean II

            “Many radicals ,however, do genuinely grieve for the poor, homeless, and dispossessed among us.”

            That is EXTREMELY unlikely, since those poor, homeless, and dispossessed are nearly always dwelling outside of one’s Dunbar number.

            Virtue signaling competition makes for a better explanation.

          • Adam Minsky

            Are you arguing that radicals don’t have stable relationships (Dunbar’ss number) with the poor, homeless, and dispossessed, and ,therefore, can’t be pained by their circumstances? Hence, the only reason these radicals pretend to care is to convince those dwelling within their Dunbar number of how virtuous they are?
            Perhaps the distinction that Roderick T. Long draws between two kinds of Left would be fruitful here. On the one hand, there exists an aristocratic Left. This is the Left that is concerned with banning smoking in public places and making sure folks don’t drink excessively large cups of soda. These folks are upper middle class and reside in university towns. They make fit your description.
            There is ,fortunately, a more attractive Left. Think of the folks involved with Food Not Bombs, who regularly feed the homeless. Or the good people working with Black and Pink, an organization that visits and writes to LGBTQ prisoners. Leftists of this stripe presumably have a very different Dunbar’s number than that of their aristocratic counterparts.

          • Sean II

            There may be something to Roderick’s distinction, but as far as I can tell the Anti-Privilege Left consists of him and approximately three other dudes. Every Leftist I know is of the Aristo kind.

            But note what Long is really saying: the good left in NOT pro-poor people, it’s just ANTI privilege. In other words, even that version is based more on a dislike for toffs than it is on a love for chavs.

            Ever seen Dazed and Confused? There’s a wonderful little monologue in that movie where Adam Goldberg’s character reveals that, having finally met them, he just doesn’t like the poor people he’s spent years promising to help. I suspect that moment is very revealing, in terms of what turns earnest 18 year old world saving Leftos into people like Hillary Clinton.

          • Adam Minsky

            I have not seen Dazed and Confused. I will check it out. What you wrote reminds of the line , I thinks it was written by Orwell, that many socialist love the poor but not the smell of the poor.
            I do stubbornly cling to my idea that there exists a Left that is truly pro-poor. In addition to the two groups I previously mentioned, I think the Catholic Worker movement founded by the saintly Dorothy Day was motivated by a gentle love for “the least of these”. I have experienced a similar sentiment when volunteering with folks from the Quaker tradition.
            Some people truly do love tramps.

          • Sean II

            Sure, but your own example raises fresh doubts. The Catholic’s saintly interest in wretches frequently looks more creepy than caring. Some folks like poor people because they can be easily manipulated, threatened, and controlled.

          • Adam Minsky

            With all due respect, you are a difficult man to please. You are probably right that “some folks like poor people because they can be easily manipulated threatened, and controlled.”I do not ,however, think that describes the relationship the poor have with the Catholic Worker and Houses of Hospitality.

          • Sean II

            Yeah, sorry about that. I can see how my tendency to argue this, that, AND the other thing would try one’s patience.

          • Adam Minsky

            It’s quite all right. I enjoy the dialogue and I learn a lot from reading your posts. You are erudite and challenging. Your thought provoking contributions add a lot to this comment thread.

          • King Goat

            “Every Leftist I know is either of the Aristo kind, or a member of some rent-seeking faction that simply needs the Left to get what it wants.”

            This is like Pauline Kael’s “everyone I know voted for Nixon!” line. Ideological bubbles and confirmation go a looooong way.

          • Adam Minsky

            Thanks for the reminder that we all need out of our “ideological bubbles.” For all of its positive features, the internet enables people of different political/philosophical leanings to reside in virtual parallel universes. Not sure what can be done about this, but it is so.

          • @adamminsky:disqus @SeanII:disqus The Dunbar Number is VERY often misconstrued. It is not a measure of “the number of people you can know;” it is instead the number who can all know each other, and who knows whom, and how well.

            The theory was that the size of the cerebral cortex limited the amount of complexity you could maintain in a web of interrelationships.

            The best way to think about Dunbar’s proposition is to try and answer this question:

            “What is the largest number of graduates you can have in a high school class, where everyone knows who slept with everyone else?”

            Now, please carry on…

          • Sean II

            When something is “very often misconstrued” it very often means the concept has simply outgrown some confinement of its childhood. Such is the case here.

          • urstoff

            That may be true for many people, but isn’t for people whose response to the argument that Matt puts forth here is the “Wal-mart takes advantage of welfare” counterargument. That type of counterargument is where I think anti-corporate sentiment is dominating rather than concern for the poor.

          • Adam Minsky

            I will concede the point.

  • Bill Green

    Unfortunately a basic income guarantee – if not funded by economic rent from land – will help bid up the price of housing and we will soon have the same problem…

  • efcdons

    Unfortunately the solutions you identified are not politically possible. Since we ended “welfare as we know it” there does not seem to be a constituency to provide help for non-working people as they are seen as “undeserving”. If the rhetoric surrounding poverty and work were different then policies like a UBI or negative income tax might be possible.

    In regards to your example of Uber and other gig workers, that is again a political issue. If those sorts of workers are classed as employees rather than independent contractors then they would be covered (at least) by the FLSA’s minimum wage requirement. There is nothing inherent about working for Uber (as opposed to someone who does not work for a wage at all) that makes it so the minimum wage will not help to increase the worker’s income.

    • Bill Green

      It has to be sold with something the right wants – like a flat tax (as a transition to funding via economic rent).

      A flat tax w/ a basic income guarantee (which ends up being a defacto progressive income tax) & ending social welfare programs & minimum wage/labor laws…

      • efcdons

        If a flat tax combined with a UBI was effectively a progressive income tax why would the right support it? My understanding, as someone not on the right so what do I know, is the progressiveness of the current tax system is inherently “unfair”. Though maybe the right will support a flat tax with a UBI because it is less progressive than the current system, the perfect being the enemy of the good and all.

        • Bill Green

          you don’t think the right wants to end all social welfare programs – including social security plus get rid of minimum wage & labor laws?

          simple math as an example on 10% flat tax and $10K basic income guarantee (BIG)

          zero income – $10K/year BIG
          $50K income – $5K tax & $10K/year BIG …effective tax rate negative 10%
          $100K income – $10K tax & $10K/year BIG effective tax rate 0%
          $1 million income – $100K tax & $10K/year BIG effective tax rate 9%

      • urstoff

        As Wil Wilkinson proposed years ago, a tax code targeted towards growth instead of fairness, and then use the proceeds to fund really good social insurance. If the right accepted that (some like Paul Ryan had said that they’re willing to move in that direction, at least), would the left ever accept a non-progressive income/consumption tax, even if it came with a great social insurance program?

        • j r

          The dirty little not-so-secret of politics is that “the right” and “the left” will accept whatever they’re told to accept. The Republican Party rolled over pretty easily on Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind and we already know better than to ask where all the anti-war protesters have gone since 2008.

          If the folks who do the telling haven’t made better attempts to structure the tax code to favor growth over redistribution and have repeatedly saddled the poor with some of the dumbest, most ill conceived social insurance schemes, it’s likely because it is in their interests to do so.

      • David Jacobs

        The best anti-poverty program allows wages to tend asymptotically toward zero thereby creating employment numbers approaching infinity and making childbirth unnecessary.

  • King Goat

    1. Apart from the minimum wage or basic guaranteed income, maybe some of these cities could try lowering their sky high taxes in many areas for poor people, through some kind of tax credit or holiday.

    2. One argument for the minimum wage, which I remember hearing during the Clinton administration, was that whatever it’s faults it fosters a ‘culture of work’ over a culture of dependency by ‘making work pay’ for those who choose (and get it). To the extent that works it would certainly have something over a BGI.

    • urstoff

      Hard to foster a culture of work when you’re out of a job because your labor is worth less than $15. I’d rather see some kind of make-work program than a minimum wage if that is the goal, although those come with their own set of major problems.

      • Sean II

        “…your labor is worth less than $15.”

        Many people find that thought unthinkable, or at least unspeakable. It’s not nice, this idea that people differ in their productivity. One of many reasons why public debate on the minimum wage is so idiotic.

        • Bill Green

          The real issue is more around a “livable wage” no matter if the person’s labor is “worth” it or not…

          • Sean II

            “Livable wage”…good one. Must remember that. In fact you just gave me an idea for a comedy sketch:

            Unemployed MBA grad reluctantly takes over the family business: Porn Valley’s least profitable studio. Soon after, California passes its $15 minimum wage, leaving him no choice but to fire the firm’s least productive employee, a heterosexual male “fluffer” named Chad.

            Crisis: while doing the table read for a ball-gag themed bondage feature, the MBA strikes up a conversation with actress Voir Dire, a UCLA student paying her way through law school with fetish films. She explains that, as the valley’s only straight male fluffer, Chad will probably have no trouble making a prima facie case for discrimination.

            The MBA is trapped. Whatever he does, the company will go bankrupt, throwing a number of marginally employable porn stars out of work. Fire Chad, and a settlement breaks the bank. Keep him, and the gap between his actual fluff output and the new legally mandated minimum wage brings slow death by strangulation.

            Solution: For the good of all, Chad must die.

            The third act is mostly what you’d expect, you know…just working out the unexpectedly complicated problems that arise after one undertakes to kill a fluffer.

          • Bill Green

            I am not defending a “livable wage” argument although as a catholic distributist/southern agrarian sympathizer I understand it…

            I am just giving you the left’s argument on a minimum wage hike – it can’t be justified by whether it is commiserate with the labor provided, but rather it is a moral argument on what can provide a modicum of decency for a person to live in this society…

          • Sean II

            Not another CathDistSoAg’er. You guys are everywhere.

            One problem with your “modicum of decency” argument: okay, sure…that might get you to a guaranteed income where we pay people a “living sum”. But there is nothing in the concept of decency that suggests we should LIE and call that sum a wage, when it isn’t.

          • n0truscotsman

            I think you’re onto something there. A crime thriller in the works I presume? 😀

        • urstoff

          Yes, it’s either a simple assumption against it or a taboo that anyone’s labor can be worth less than $X per hour. I remember being 16 years old, and my labor was definitely worth less than $15 per hour.

          • Sean II

            I had a similar problem at that age, but solved it by taking on…how shall we say, uncommon risk premiums created as a side effect of government policy.

          • Adam Minsky

            Your writing is a bit over my head. Are you trying to say that you were ,to steal a term from P.J. O’Rourke, a “street pharmacologist”?

          • King Goat

            I think the more common premise is that there’s 1. plenty of profit at the top of the enterprise, not commensurate to their ‘worth’ and 2. the enterprise couldn’t run without those at the bottom.

          • urstoff

            I think they’re two sides of the same coin. Profits are too high because the workers aren’t being paid the value of their labor, and the value of labor is always worth more than $15 an hour. Neither really stands up to scrutiny.

          • King Goat

            I think the argument about the minimum wage is similar to that for laws prohibiting paying people of different genders or races different amounts. There certainly was a time when minorities or women would have been offered less money for many jobs, and some might have argued it was because their labor was ‘worth’ less, but supporters of anti-discrimination laws thought this violates some moral imperative.

          • M S

            Is that an argument that you personally find convincing? That is, do you think that it is just as irrational (or at least similarly irrational) to pay individuals less than some standardized amount for certain jobs as it is to pay women less than men or black people less than white? Do you think there is a similar error in thinking in both cases?

            If so, why?

          • King Goat

            “do you think that it is just as irrational (or at least similarly irrational) to pay individuals less than some standardized amount for certain jobs as it is to pay women less than men or black people less than white?”

            Of course not, and I don’t think most supporters of minimum or ‘living’ wage laws think that any and every inequality in pay is wrong or should be prohibited. What I think the two have in common is an approach that says that in some instances a moral concern can and should trump a purely market efficiency argument.

            Take the following example: you own a small store in a town and you advertise to hire for a position about which some members of your town have ideas that it is one ‘unfit’ for either a woman or minority. Indeed, they’re so put off by the idea of someone from that group doing that job that they will be quite willing to stop doing business with your store if they see it. You get two applicants, a slightly higher qualified woman/minority and a slightly less qualified man/non-minority. You could truthfully tell a proponent of anti-discrimination law that you will hire the woman/minority but for less pay than the other applicant to make up the anticipated losses (that employee is not ‘worth’ as much in that sense), but the proponent will tell you ‘too bad, it’s wrong and unfair to discriminate.” The same kind of thing (among some other motivations, sure) is going on with minimum wage laws and their supporters I submit.

          • Ron H.

            The same social pressure from anti-discrimination proponents would work to assure equal pay for minorities and women in your example.

          • King Goat

            If they outnumber them, yes. I think the point is that the kind of people who support the minimum wage and anti-discrimination laws think this shouldn’t be left up to such a calculus.

          • Ron H.

            I’m sure you’re right. Too bad those meddlers haven’t learned economics and don’t believe in private property.

          • CJColucci

            What happens when the loss of business is such that the owner loses out even if the minority employee is paid nothing at all — which is quite possible if the job in ordinary circumstances isn’t highly paid?

      • King Goat

        Yes, this is why I said ‘whatever it’s faults.’ I’m not sure people that that put forward the ‘culture of work’ (Clinton would say ‘make work pay’) acknowledge offsetting job losses and think they’re just outweighed by the fact the(according to their theory) more people that would, under a higher minimum wage ,choose work among available jobs rather than dependency or if they just focus solely on the latter. I actually agree with you that some type of public works project addresses that better (and that it sets up some problems of its own).

    • Regarding your first point, you must surely understand that cities despise the poor and want them out, out, out. Hence: gentrification, antagonistic zoning practices, and near-constant harassment by the police. Raising the minimum wage isn’t about helping the poor at all, it’s about making the not-poor feel as though they’ve done something to help the poor while the constables load the actual poor on buses with one-way tickets to anywhere-but-here.

      Regarding your second point, see ibid.

      • Sean II

        Right you are. That, for example, is why the nation’s most indiscriminate and invasive police practice – stop and frisk – started in its largest and most liberal city.

        • I hate to buy into The Last Psychiatrist‘s ideas wholesale, but you have to admit that his theory resonates quite well here: As long as we maintain the trappings of helping the poor, then we reaffirm our identities as Those Who Care For The Poor. And the poor might not actually get to eat tonight, but at least they can be validated by the fact that the jobs they no longer have now pay a higher nominal wage rate.

          And if we deign to lift the veil: RAGE.

          • Sean II

            Although, if you approach from the cultural side instead of the political one, it’s trivially easy to provoke Leftists into revealing their true feelings about the poor.

            In fact they hate everything about them: Christianity, junk food, homophobia, traditional masculinity, Nascar, NFL, laugh-track sitcoms, Jason Statham movies, Tyler Perry movies, illiteracy, supporting the war of terror, joining the army, un-ironically listening to rap music, listening to country music at all, thinking abortion is probably murder, the list goes on.

            Not only that, they love talking about how much they hate those things. It’s a preferred topic of conversation.

            Of course the Left doesn’t actually like poor folks. How could they?

          • Adam Minsky

            I hope I’m not beating a dead horse here, but I do think you are overgeneralizing. I have simply known to many people on the Left ,in the broadest sense, who have worked tirelessly around issue of poverty, housing, criminal justice reform, and a host of other issues. These folks may be politically naïve, but they certainly don’t hate the poor (even if they don’t care for NASCAR or the NFL).
            Years ago, the conservative moralist Dennis Prager wrote an article advocating a moratorium on judging the motives of other (according to Prager this should be left to God). This might be a good idea. Let’s assess folks on the basis of their actions. Anyone involved in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the sick, or visiting the incarcerated probably deserves the benefit of the doubt.

          • Sean II

            Why would we ever stop talking about motives? That’s madness. Human motives are complicated and interesting and relevant. They’re a perfectly fit thing to study and discuss. A moratorium on that would be a moratorium on some of our most fascinating art and science. It would mean no economics, no public choice, no Jonathan Haidt, no Steve Pinker, etc. And why? So our political talk shows can seem a bit more polite? Terrible idea.

            Also, not trying to be combative but…no one except surgeons, medical residents, and maybe early career biglaw slaves works tirelessly anymore. On that ground alone I dispute your claim to know people who work tirelessly for the poor. Well, that and everything else we know about human nature.

          • Adam Minsky

            Maybe a compromise is in order. We should spend more time scrutinizing our own motives, and less time commenting on the motives of other. This is easy to say, hard to do, and just might make the world a sweeter place.

          • Sean II

            Nope, I reject that utterly, as a blatant attempt to put mere politeness ahead of inquiry. The only reason to refrain from studying the motives of other people is because they get pissed off when questioned. Most especially they get pissed off when you actually figure them out.

            Not nearly a good enough reason to close off such an important subject.

          • j r

            “Human motives are complicated and interesting and relevant.”
            If this is true, then why do you so often settle on the least complicated and least interesting theories about other people’s motive?

            Don’t get me wrong. Much of what you say about “the left” is true, but at a certain point this becomes a tautology. You’re defining the left by adherence to your stereotypes about the left. What about those people who are both poor themselves and of the left? Do they hate themselves? False consciousness?

          • Sean II

            The least complicated and least interesting theories happen to be the most probable. The truth is often boring like that. Don’t make the mistake of preferring a more complicated or interesting explanation, just because its more fun to discuss.

            When you meet someone who won’t shut up about how virtuous he is, but who doesn’t demonstrate any virtue above the common average, you say “ah, signalling!” If you meet 100 such people, you keep saying that, because it keeps on being the best explanation. You don’t switch to an inferior story just because that one gets boring by way of repetition.

            So what about the Christian Left? The existence of that (in the U.S. small) minority does no violence to any theory of mine. Christians are some of the world’s most obnoxious and hypocritical signalers. It’s hardly surprising to see some overlap between the original Tartuffes and the modern masters of Tartuffery. Why not?

            And so what again for Leftists among the poor. I already mentioned that self-interested rent seeking is one of the plausible, non romantic-delusion-based motives which Leftism uses to fill its ranks. Ever seen the crowd at an SEIU meeting? Those cats aren’t smart enough to have ideology, and they’re not socially sophisticated enough to care much about signaling. So…they probably want exactly what they seem to want: to get more money, without giving up more work. Once again, the fact that this is boring does NOT in any way count against it. What matters is whether its true.

          • j r

            The least complicated and least interesting theories happen to be the most probable.

            You say that and yet everyone of your theories is neither the least complicated nor the least interesting.

          • Sean II

            I dunno…my “craziest” theory around these parts is actually super boring in world historical terms.

            In any age but our own, my lunatic delusion that mental attributes and personality traits are strongly heritable would be regarded as a banality.

            Hell, even the matchmaker in a 19th century shtetl knew that phenotypes get ever more genotype-y with increasing age. “Turning into your mother, you are!”

          • j r

            Do we really need to play this motte and bailey where you pretend that any challenge to your whole bundle of racialist beliefs is akin to rejecting the heritibality of personality traits?

            Even when I clearly demonstrate the problem with your particular version of heritibality, you’re still not going to admit that you’re wrong. I get it. You’re committed to your stereotypes. And even stranger, you wear those commitments as a badge of honor.

            I’d much rather just watch you rake Brennan over the coals for all the time he spends giving the adjunct movement crap, while letting the entire higher education scam off the hook.

          • King Goat

            “you wear those commitments as a badge of honor.”

            He Can Handle the Truth, and we just can’t….

          • Sean II

            You’ve never demonstrated any problem – much less the problem – with “my version of heritability”.

            I’d remember an interesting thing like that.

          • Adam Minsky

            I tend to agree. When many conservatives/libertarians criticize the Left, they are criticizing a convenient caricature created by Fox News and a coterie of talks show hosts. There are plenty of arrogant, self-absorbed, and nasty folks on the Left. there are also people of great gentleness, kindness, dedication, and warmth.
            I’ve long been interested in idea of Left/Right alliances.. Opposition to the warfare state would seem to create a basis for some dgree of cross ideological alliances. This would force both groups to abandon some of their stereoypes about the other. And we all know that stereotypes die hard.

          • Adam Minsky

            I don’t mean to be a pest, but I can’t resist one question. If the Left ,as a whole, don’t care deeply about the poor, is there any hope for a pro-poor politics.? There have been a handful of folks on the right who appear to be truly passionate about eliminating poverty (the late Jack Kemp certainly; Paul Ryan possibly). Yet many ,maybe even most, conservatives/libertarians seem to think that the free market will ,over time, elevate the living standard of everyone. such a perspective hardly creates a sense of urgency vis a vis the plight of the poor.

          • Libertymike

            Taxing the poor man’s purchase of alcohol, air-travel, automobiles, bus-fare, cigarettes, clothing, food, gasoline, gift cards, hotel sojourns, marijuana, medicine, and recreational activities along with taxing his income while compelling him to purchase insurance he can not afford and does not want is a “perspective” that “hardly creates a sense of urgency vis-à-vis [his] plight.”

          • Sean II

            Of course there’s hope. Look at India since 1990 and China since 1980. Biggest ever escape from poverty, and none of it came from anyone giving an extra shit about the poor.

            Indeed, all that seems to have happened is that those two governments got tired of being poor. Any benefit to the actual people was accidental.

            We don’t need to care about the poor to help them. What we need is just rationality about their problems.

            I, for instance, care enough about the poor to make a serious inquiry into what causes them to exist. That’s the kind of caring we need.

          • Adam Minsky

            You are ,as always, intelligent and challenging. I might have preferred it ,however, if you had written: We don’t need to care about the poor to help them, but it would be nice if we did.
            If you don’t particularly care about the poor ,and I’m not moralizing here, why are you a regular on this particular website? The whole idea of being a “bleeding heart” anything is that one has a particular concern for the outcast, the marginalized, and ,yes, the poor. I thought that the BLH perspective was that conscious concern for social justice was a necessary ingredient for a healthy libertarianism (the whole thick/thin debate).

          • Ron H.

            I have no idea why Sean II is a regular here, obviously, but my own reason for regularly reading and occasionally commenting, is that I find many of the discussions here fascinating. There is much I agree with and much that I don’t. Life would be dull if I only frequented blogs at which everyone agreed with me. Hopefully I’m not required to have a well developed concern for social justice to comment here.

            In my view, the best possible policy “we” could pursue to help the outcast, marginalized, and poor is to remove all the previous well-intentioned policies that have done them so much harm already, such as the min wage, EITC, and and the tens of thousands of restrictive regulations, rules, and licensing and certification requirements that create insurmountable barriers to entry into the workforce and the small business world, leaving those folks unable to make a living.

            Then “we” could just leave them alone to pursue their own peaceful ends and improve their own lives in whatever way they think best. Something we can’t possibly do, as we can’t know what is best for others.

          • Adam Minsky

            In reading your comment I am reminded of a quote fro G.K. Chesterton: Never tear down a fence until youn know why it was built in the first place.
            Margaret Thatcher once remarked that her biggest political mistake was not respecting the anxiety level of the British electorate. I think there is something similar at work here. Immediately eliminating all government supports for the poor would be an incredibly disorienting experience for millions of people. Even if limited ,or no, government is your ultimate goal, you should be prudent what road you take to get there.
            This blog does indeed have some fascinating discussions. It is a good place to visit when you want to think outside the box.

          • Ron H.

            Chesterton was one smart cookie.

            I didn’t mean to suggest eliminating all government support at a single stroke, but first removing the obstacles that have been placed in their way by those who claim to be trying to help.

            The min wage prevents some low skilled and inexperienced people from ever getting work of any kind at which they might gain experience and higher paying skills. The cartoon of the ladder with the bottom rungs removed is very apt.

            The income dependent EITC, while appearing to help low earners, actually offers disincentives to increasing one’s income because of the severe penalties penalties imposed on higher income.

            I suspect that most of the barriers to starting a small business or performing some service on an individual basis are intended to protect current business owners and service providers from competition, even though most are misrepresented as “public safety” measures.

            Theft and redistribution of income from earners to non-earners aside, I’m somewhat ambivalent toward the BIG. It would certainly seem to be a good replacement for the hundreds of current programs designed to help those in need, But it suffers from some of the same disincentives any redistribution plan suffers from, including lack of urgency to get work for some who aren’t employed, and I can’t help but wonder what would happen to those who use their BIG allotment by the middle of the month and can’t feed their kids for the rest of the month. Many otherwise sympathetic potential benefactors might feel less helpful knowing the needy person had made obvious bad choices and now deserves to suffer the consequences.

            I favor the return of private, voluntary mutual aid and friendly societies and charitable organizations such as existed in great numbers in the early 20th century before government shouldered them aside.

          • Adam Minsky

            This is a hard question. I too would favor voluntary mutual aid societies instead of impersonal and bureaucratic government programs. Yet, I would be reticent about doing away with government programs before these aid societies had been (re)established. The catch twenty-two is these societies probably won’t be established before the lack of government programs make them necessary. I’m not sure where to go from there.
            In any event, Chesterton did have brains to burn.

          • Bill Green

            “Theft and redistribution of income from earners to non-earners aside, I’m somewhat ambivalent toward the BIG.”

            If economic rent from the private enclose of land as a commons were used, it can’t be considered theft as there is no labor expended for the “unearned increment”…

          • Ron H.

            I may have no income except that for which I exchange my labor, which is not a commons, in which case something to which no one else has a claim is being taken from me by threat of force. We usually call that theft.

            In another case I might appropriate something in nature which was previously unclaimed and therefore had no value, and transform it into something of value to others.

            Keep in mind ‘value’ is a human concept, and all value is subjective.

            Even in your original example enclosure is an expenditure of labor and if the the value to others of the land is increased by that act, then the increase is the fruit of the encloser’s labor, and belongs to him.

            Please don’t suggest that the whole Earth and all of nature is owned in common by everyone on Earth in common. That’s not a workable arrangement.

          • Bill Green

            enclosure as you describe via homesteading is not “producing anything” as the land/location in question pre-exists your labor.

            rent-seeking is parasitic as it is a claim on the labor of others being excluded & that is why it was considered “unearned” to those who study political economy.

            to view everything that pre-exists labor as owned in common (as Locke did) as an individual, equal access, opportunity right certainly is workable – see Elinor Ostram’s work.

          • Ron H.

            I’m familiar with the work of Henry George, and the idea of property “owned in common” simply doesn’t work except with very small groups of people, perhaps a family or small tribe. Surely you’re familiar with the concept of ‘tragedy of the commons’. The primary flaw with his unusual idea is that he assigns value to land prior to to it being used by anyone. Only people can assign value to anything, and land or any other potential resource has none until someone appropriates it for use in making something useful to people from it. A stick on the ground has no value until someone picks it up and imagines a use for it. The new value of the stick is the total value of the stick, and it belongs to the appropriator.

            If I appropriate an unused and unowned piece of land on which to grow apples, the value of the apples and the value of an operating orchard are mine.

            Ostrom’s first design principle – “Clearly defined boundaries (clear definition of the contents of the common pool resource and effective exclusion of external un-entitled parties” – perfectly describes a corporation. Multiple owners with a common interest agreeing on rules and procedures under which they will jointly govern and operate some enterprise. Non-members are excluded. This is no different that an individual owning a “common pool resource” except it’s not “common”. the ownership principle is the same.

            I’m not sure I understand your statement about John Locke, he certainly didn’t advocate common ownership. He understood the problems involved.

          • Bill Green

            You may in fact be familiar with Henry George AND Elinor Ostrom, but from your post you surely don’t understand them…

            Economic rent isn’t “assigned” by anyone. It is an economic phenomena that arises naturally under conditions of scarcity. “Growing apples” implies you planted the apple trees & harvested the apples via your labor. An adjacent unowned field of wild apples would only require my labor to walk to them and pick them for my consumption – your labor-based apples at any “price” over my exertion would be of no value to me.

            Ostrom work documented how various communities manage common resources—grazing lands, forests, irrigation waters, fisheries—equitably and sustainably over the long term. The Nobel Committee’s recognition of her work effectively DEBUNKS popular right-wing theories about the Tragedy of the Commons, which hold that private property is the only effective method to prevent finite resources from being ruined or depleted.

            John Locke’s chapter “On Property,” from his Second Treatise on Government, asserted that any person has a right to exclusive possession of land, “provided that there is enough, and as good, left to others.” (his Lockean proviso) This is but another way of saying that the common right to hold land is limited only by the equal rights of others. As long as this proviso is met, the landholder has no reciprocal obligation to the community or its members, because his holding land has not prevented others from exercising their individual equal rights (i.e. common rights) to do likewise.

            Locke also noted that economies relying on private possession of land are vastly more productive than nomadic economies, and that it is in the public interest to grant possession within the limits of his proviso.

            Locke further noted that his proviso referred to there being land as good as the unimproved value of the land already taken up:

            “He that had as good left for his improvement, as was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labour: if he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another’s pains, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on, and whereof there was as good left, as that already possessed, and more than he knew what to do with, or his industry could reach to. [Sec. 34]”

            Locke went on to state that, when populations were sparse and the economy was not fully monetized, there was no incentive for people to take up more land than they intended to use, and so there was little violation of the rights of others. However, with the growth of population, good land became scarce, and with the introduction of money, it became profitable for people to take up land they had no intention of using, so that others would pay them to let go of that land. It is at this point that Locke’s proviso was violated, and systems of land tenure had to be established by social compact.

            Locke did not state what the particulars of social compacts should be, but it would be logical for him to advocate a compact that would be harmonious with his proviso that land should be accessible to others, and with his other proviso, that land should not be appropriated to be held out of use.

          • Ron H.

            [Y]ou surely don’t understand them & the difference between things owned in common & collectively/jointly …

            Bill, there IS no difference between ‘in common’ and ‘collectively’. They mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably. I’d be really interested to hear you explain the difference. And the word you’re looking for is ‘agree’. I surely don’t agree with them.

            You are misreading or ignoring what I’ve written, and you are misreading Locke. Yes, I’m familiar with Locke’s Second Treatise.

            Think about it: Locke was among the first, and strongest advocates of the principle of natural rights based on individual self ownership, and therefore exclusive ownership of one’s own labor and the fruits of that labor. through homesteading. You did this when you walked into an “adjacent unowned field of wild apples” and mixed your labor with nature to acquire property that was useful to you.

            After all that privatizing of property, what sense would it make to believe that Locke then reversed himself by claiming that all unused nature is commonly owned?

            … would only require my labor to
            walk to them and pick them for my consumption – your labor-based apples
            at any “price” over my exertion would be of no value to me.

            Indeed. You homesteaded some apples. Who gave you permission to do so if the land was a commons? How did you know there would be enough left for everyone else?

            Do you realize you just described my appropriation of a parcel of land on which to grow apples as “leaving enough and as good for others””? You seem to be on both sides of this issue. are you confused?

            We can ignore the fact that few entrepreneurs would appropriate a parcel of land and grow apples on it if there were plenty of apples growing just adjacent to that plot. Pears perhaps – something not readily available nearby. You aren’t thinking these things through.

            In his proviso, Locke never mentions common ownership as such, but refers to unused nature that is available to everyone. Ostrom describes common ownership by a group that excludes others. how is this different from an individual owner claiming property rights and excluding others? You may be misreading Ostrom in your eagerness to place all of nature under the common ownership of all people.

            Yes, common ownership of property is possible, but it can’t include all of nature any more than an individual can claim amounts of land beyond their reasonable control and use. Columbus couldn’t legitimately claim the entire Western hemisphere in the name of the King and Queen of Spain – especially since several million people were already using some of it.

            And it’s not possible to claim (reasonably) that all nature belongs to everyone. It is unowned, unused, and has NO value until someone creates that value.

            Locke went on to state that, when populations were sparse and the
            economy was not fully monetized, there was no incentive for people to
            take up more land than they intended to use …

            No he didn’t. You are either making this up or seriously misunderstanding what you have read.

          • Sean II

            Well, first off I care about the poor as much as anyone else. I’m just the guy who’s honest about the likely motive of those who claim to care for strangers beyond all known limits of human nature, and at the same time honest about the limits of caring as a strategy (it ain’t one). That’s the whole point. I care enough to study the problem, which probably puts me a pip ahead of all those people who merely boast of their concern like Miss America contestants. Anyone who claims to care about the poor without a) studying econ, and b) actually observing the behavior of poor people is…full…of…shit.

            But why do I follow this blog? My reasons, roughly in this order: 1) Rigor and Fair Play – most people here use real arguments without the kind of speechifying and/or “John Oliver demolishes” bullshit that elsewhere passes for debate. 2) Good People – there are several commenters I just like, and like to read. But even the people I disagree with habitualy, like Jason Brennan for instance, are smart, serious thinkers who argue well and express themselves in interesting ways. 3) Limited Options – for whatever reason, I hate the rest of Libertopia. All those endless conversations where people just repeat Atlas Shrugged analogies and rephrase the non-aggression principle, they make me want to rush out and initiate force at the first opportunity. Here at least everyone is aware of the problems with naive libertarianism.

          • Adam Minsky

            Thank you for responding to my question- I realized in retrospect that it could have been interpreted as acrimonious and invasive(that wasn’t my intention).
            If you will indulge me one more inquiry, I would love to know your thoughts on Austrian economics and the Mises Institute. The Rothbardians seem to be able to avoid the worst of the dogmatic repetition that so many self-proclaimed libertarians engage in (and which you understandably find repellent). Rothbard himself explored all kinds of topics beyond the NAP- his writing on the ,for example, the counter reformation in the Catholic Church will make you rub the sleep out of your eyes, regardless of your religious beliefs. And some of the scholars at Mises seem to follow in this iconoclastic tradition.

          • Sean II

            The Austrians have a lot to offer, and they can be especially useful at besieging the other guy’s dogma.

            But, as if to prove the irresistible pull of tragedy, they turn right around and enslave themselves to a couple dogmas of their own: the Rothbard cult, the praxeology obsession, that whole Hans Hoppe argumentation lunacy, etc.

          • Libertymike

            Well, if being enslaved to asking “what would Maury do?” or if having an amusing, though admittedly annoying, fetish for doctrinaire praxeology, constitutes kismet raining on the otherwise glorious parade of Mises’ men, who needs freedom?

          • Adam Minsky

            I’m not sure there is much of a Rothbard cult. Many Austrians ,particularly the younger ones, may unreservedly embrace Rothbard on economics. Yet, they tend to reject his very controversial views on race, immigration, and trade. As for his crankier interests ,such as the aforementioned interest in the counter-reformation, they just aren’t interested. It’s not much of a cult when the members are embarrassed by ,or dismissive of, many of the guru’s views.
            I don’t know that much about Hoppe, but he seem to be a truly non-pc figure- as opposed to the safe and establishmentarian non-pc of Conservatism Inc. Hoppe certainly can’t be accused of just mindlessly reiterating the NAP- he dives head first into some very contentious issues.

          • Ron H.

            If you have some time and aren’t afraid of things that may make your head spin, try this out:


            Robert Murphy and Gene Callahan offer a critique here:


            Note the free PDF.

        • King Goat

          “the nation’s most indiscriminate and invasive police practice – stop n’ frisk – started in its largest and most liberal city.”

          This is nonsense. Stop and frisk searches, and general police chief directives to engage in them, were going on in cities across America before they were constitutionally blessed in 1967 in Terry v. Ohio, and long before the NYPD’s currently controversial policy. You’ve got it ‘ass backwards’ essentially taken the fact that NYC was the first major city to have a popular backlash against the procedure as evidence that it was the first to have the procedure.

      • King Goat

        I can’t buy into that generalization. There’s a lot of people in cities, with a lot of different opinions about the poor (among other things) filtered through a fair amount of institutions, the workings of many of which most in the city either don’t know much about or don’t understand. Poor people don’t have much political pull anywhere they are and so anywhere they are, to some degree perhaps despite how the local population thinks and feels about them, they’re going to be among the most hassled. Poor people in rural and suburban areas (and they are there, though often they’re escorted to cities because the mean, hating city folk have designed far more support centers for them-in their hate of them I’m sure) are not living the life of Riley in comparison…

        • Okay, so let’s not generalize. We agree that minimum wage, gentrification, police harassment, and antagonistic zoning practices are all bad for the poor. Thus, anyone who supports these policies doesn’t have the poor’s best interests at heart, even if they say they do. Which cities have managed to address their poverty problems without resorting to these tactics?

          • urstoff

            What’s even a good measure of poverty relief? Poverty rate is obviously influenced by demographic effects (how good is San Jose really at relieving poverty?). A longitudinal measure, even if it tracks the same people, won’t capture the whole picture, either. If a city is somehow really, really good at poverty relief, then there won’t be many poor people in the city to begin with, and thus the number of poor or change in poverty rate won’t be a good measure.

          • So, urstoff, you’re saying that you agree with King Goat that my comment was an unfair generalization because we can’t accurately measure poverty relief? That seems like an odd objection to raise, but maybe I’m not following you.

          • urstoff

            No, I think you’re likely right. It’s just an independent question that I thought puzzling.

          • Aha, I see.

            I think it’s theoretically possible to measure poverty relief, but that program administrators have no incentive to accurately do so. They only care to measure the number of recipients and the amount given to recipients. If both of these numbers grow, we are meant to conclude that the program needs more funding.

            But there are any possible number of metrics to use for this. Welfare “recidivism rates” (for lack of a better term) could be measured, where lower rates = better success. Average recipient household income five years after benefit termination, where higher number = better success. Average per capita income, by ZIP code, for poor neighborhoods, where higher is better. Cases processed per agency employee, where a higher number is better (admittedly, this metric is sometimes tracked, but only internally).

            Etc., etc. No one metric could be assessed in isolation, but many metrics taken together would give good insight. Of course, as I mentioned, no welfare organization has any reason to make these kinds of metrics public, or to calculate them at all, so it’s all just wishful thinking at this point.

            I know of one federal program that deliberately designed their electronic form processing system to make such metrics impossible to report. It is a known issue. The overlords do not want us looking in.

          • Ron H.

            They only care to measure the number of recipients and the amount given to recipients. If both of these numbers grow, we are meant to conclude that the program needs more funding.

            Bingo. A “successful” program administrator will lose funding, employees, and eventually their job. The incentives are perverse for these folks.

      • Adam Minsky

        Cities are geographical entities and as such are incapable of hatred (or love). It would be more accurate to say that mayors, city planners, and powerful business interests often view the poor as an obstacle to implementing their political/economic designs.
        I think you paint with a bit of a broad brush. I personally know plenty of activists who both support raising the minimum wage and are involved in fights against gentrification and police harassment. You can question the political judgement of these folks, but not their intentions.

        • I’m sorry if what I said felt like a narcissistic injury to your friends, but the fact remains that life is miserable for the poor as a direct result of the policies I mentioned, and no amount of objecting to my tone or my phrasing will change that. So your comment is objectionable on a different level than mine, but no less objectionable.

          • Adam Minsky

            I’m not trying to be “objectionable”, I just wanted to join the dialogue. I am surprised ,however, to see libertarians spending so much energy scrutinizing the motives of others. It used to be the Left ,or at least large swathes of it, that accused their opponents of being heartless and unfeeling Conservatives/libertarians were content to view their adversaries as well meaning but dense.

          • Well, those were the days before mayors literally started busing the poor out of town, before the police forces were so heavily militarized, etc. Times change.

          • Adam Minsky

            Are you contending that cities were more friendly to the poor during the days of (usually) Democratic Party run machine politics? You may be correct, but the argument would have to be made, not just contended.

          • I’m contending that the specific policies I mentioned are bad for the poor. Your attempt to make that uncontestable point into something else is a clear indication of the sincerity of your remarks.

          • Adam Minsky

            Friend, I can assure you that I am sincere. I may be dumber than a government mule, but I am sincere.

  • Gee, it’s almost as if minimum wage increases aren’t about helping the poor at all…

  • Andy Carr

    Points taken but the reality is that this is an action that can be taken on the state level, the national legislature will not pass a negative income tax. We also need a much higher graduated income tax, so profits are reinvested, rather than taken out of corporations as salaries and bonuses of the ruling class.

  • I am a small business owner and I am intrigued by the idea of the Basic Income Guarantee. There are many reasons to like that approach better than an arbitrarily set Minimum Wage.

    One is it will force politicians to foot the bill for their program. Let me explain:

    When politicians set a Minimum Wage they are offloading the cost of that onto the business owner. They are creating a feel good moment for themselves (“Look what I have done for you.”) but they are fulfilling that promise by spending the employers dollars. It is too easy. It is “off the books” (it doesn’t impact their budget). This is one of the most egregious forms of OPM that exist for politicians.

  • stxflyer

    Our current congress proves relying on politicians to determine a fair redistribution of wealth is laughable. Even SSI which is solvent and paid for by its recipients can be reduced by these assholes. Veterans and 9/11 workers are facing reduced compensation. McD’s president makes $5000/hr. while workers get $7.00. That’s bullshit. The 5 walton heirs got $140 BILLION just by the luck of their birth.

  • Libertymike

    “If California wants to be smart about fighting poverty, it should” not be fighting against the pursuit and accumulation of wealth.

  • ThaomasH

    I wish I had a nickle for everyone who points out the downsides of a higher minimum wage that does not then go on to propose a better way to transfer income to low wage workers. I’d be a millionaire from the readers of Cafe Hayek, alone.

    • urstoff

      EITC / negative income tax is the standard proposal, although I’m not sure why pointing out that the minimum wage is bad for the poor requires a counterproposal. The fact that it is bad for the poor is enough justification to not do it.

      • ThaomasH

        I agree if the argument is that MW is bad for the poor, but that argument was not made. The post just points out that it is not a very efficient way of helping the poor (those low income people who are) but does not argue that the amount of harm to the poor who lose/fail to gain jobs should be counted as greater than the additional income of those who retain jobs at a higher income. It is exactly the conflation of “not a good way to reduce poverty” with “makes poverty worse” that I disagree with. I’m hoping to see criticism of the minimum wage linked to an alternative policy that does not share the criticized features. For example just eliminating the federal wage tax would be an increase of $1.25/ho for a minimum wage worker and would lead to an increased demand for labor, perhaps nudging wages up a bit more.

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  • IdPnSD

    Universal Basic Income is the only way to hide poverty temporarily. But this money must come as a poverty tax for the rich. This basic minimum income must be tied to the wealth gap between rich and poor, with explicit goal to redistribute the stolen wealth.

    The only permanent solution is to remove money from the economy, and create money-less economy (MLE). Money is the root cause of all problems. It is money that helps to steal the wealth from people to the top 1%. Note that there is no win-win possible, it is always win-lose, which is a law of nature. Thus you cannot become reach without stealing from the people. So, only MLE can give full democracy and any lifestyle you want. MLE can remove poverty, unemployment, wars, etc. Take a look at the MLE chapter in the free book at

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